‘Follow that’ is the task for Callum Davidson and his St Johnstone team this season.
Far easier said than done, of course, but making end-of-an-era predictions for the Perth club has been a fool’s errand for a decade and more.
Eric Nicolson asks five pertinent questions as Saints prepare for their first competitive game since becoming double cup winners.
1 How strong is Davidson’s squad compared to last season?
No messing here – straight into the biggest of these big questions and the one that is the hardest to answer by some distance!
We’re going to have to wait until the end of August unfortunately because there are still four key players who could yet leave the club.
By no means do I think it will reach four (one, two at most, would be the sensible bet) but the fact that it’s incredibly hard to rank Shaun Rooney, Jason Kerr, Jamie McCart and Ali McCann in order of importance to this team’s success in 2021 tells you that the departure of any of them has the potential to alter the dynamic significantly.
I’ve thought for some time that McCart and Rooney are the likeliest to be bought but given the fees being talked about there’s logic to Saints taking their chances by holding on until January and reassessing then.
What I will say with some confidence is that Saints have got a stronger squad now than when they were putting one cup beside the other in the McDiarmid Park boardroom.
That is if, as expected, Eetu Vertainen signs.
Unless he fails to settle, his pedigree and style of play should be an upgrade on Guy Melamed.
2 What have been the talking points to come out of the pre-season games?
The two young loan players.
Neither Hayden Muller nor Reece Devine are squad-fillers.
Saints got lucky that in the main their three centre-halves stayed fit for those history-making few months after the turn of the year.
Davidson thinks Muller is the real deal. The same goes for Reece Devine.
The Manchester United youngster has already established in the warm-up matches that he has the physical and positional attributes to be a capable rival for Callum Booth, with the promise of more to come offensively.
Last year Davidson got lucky with injuries – or lack of them – to his three centre-backs. Muller’s arrival should allow him a better night’s sleep.
David Wotherspoon has picked up where he left off and, as a group, Saints’ appetite for hard work between pre-season games has impressed Davidson greatly and speaks to a squad not content to rest on its laurels.
3 What impact will European football have – good or bad?
Definitely the former.
The prospect of, at the very least, four games has helped guard against a mentality of ‘what else can we possibly achieve?’
They could produce the most memorable European result in the club’s history by defeating the mighty Galatasaray and/or they could secure group stage football for the first time.
It has helped focus minds and it may help keep star players at the club for a while longer.
The Thursday-Sunday thing is a myth in terms of it being a disadvantage for the league game after a trip.
And the fact that, for a change, Saints won’t be playing in Europe before the domestic stuff has begun is cause for optimism.
Beating the Turkish giants is a long-shot even though this is far from their strongest team of the last couple of decades but progressing to the group draw in the Europa Conference League isn’t.
4 They couldn’t go and win another cup, could they?
Don’t rule it out.
Arbroath will give Saints a good game at Gayfield in the last-16 of the first one they’re defending but it would be a huge shock if they don’t get through to the quarter-finals.
And then it’s just one more win to get back to Hampden Park.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) July 25, 2021
The bookmakers won’t see it this way – but such is the aura they have created for themselves at the national stadium and as a cup team in general, I’d make Saints second favourites behind Rangers.
All the other contenders have big question marks hanging over them (so do Rangers in domestic cups for that matter).
Of the many and varied potential cup stories waiting to be written this season, St Johnstone lifting their fourth trophy in eight years is one of the least far-fetched.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) July 24, 2021
5 Where will they finish in the league and what represents success?
This is as favourable an opening set of fixtures as I can remember Saints getting – they play four games before meeting one of last season’s top six.
The first five ⚽️
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) June 16, 2021
If there aren’t a flurry of defensive departures, Saints can expect to challenge for fifth and sixth again even in a league that will be stronger with Hearts back in it.
Get off to a flier and there’s an outside chance of setting sights even higher.
That would probably mean Aberdeen and their new manager under-performing but Saints putting themselves into a position to capitalise if that happens is a realistic aim.